Monday, March 29, 2010

lessons from the world of work

For the two or three people in the world who haven't heard this story from my past:

I had just left Little Caesars in a confused state, because I was recovering from a car accident when I was fired. However, nobody could agree on who fired me, or why. Eventually, though, I learned that my manager at the time wanted to promote her cousin but had to get rid of someone first...and that someone was me. She never admitted this, however.

It was a period where there was a really horrible economy, and jobs (especially ones that would work around my college schedule) were scarce. Anyway, I swore that I would never go back to food service after this. I was tired of working stupidly long hours, smelling of food, and being the only person I knew who did not have weekends free. There were very few options, so I innocently applied at a temporary service agency.

For the next few months, I would get random phone calls sending me to a different place about twice a week. The first job they sent me to was at the Revlon plant. I was working on an assembly line. My job was to take a pre-cut sheet of cardboard, fold it into a box, and hand it to the next person...for eight solid hours. Gee, it was exciting.

Most of the time, it was warehouse work...moving boxes, cleaning up, that sort of stuff. I did work at a plastics shop recycling waste material by throwing their scraps into an industrial mulcher. I worked at a meat packing plant with a few other temps, most of whom were fresh out of Navy stints; our job was taking old inventory out of the freezer, painting over the 3+ year old expiration date, and moving the boxes onto a truck bound for a homeless shelter.

One day, I got a call sending me to a dairy packaging plant. I showed up in jeans and tee-shirt. My boss (for the day) looked at me.

"Didn't they tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"You're working in the cooler today."

Naturally, I had no was June in Florida, after all. They found a windbreaker for me, and I worked until I lost feeling in my limbs, wandered around outside until I regained feeling, then went back into the cooler.

Obviously, this level of work impressed them in some way, because they invited me back the next day. I pulled up to the plant with jacket in tow, but this day, my boss informed me, I wouldn't be working in the cooler. Instead, I:

  • swept the place
  • moved some boxes
  • swept the place
  • mowed some grass out front
  • swept the place
  • moved some more boxes
  • swept the place yet again

After the final sweeping, I asked my boss what he wanted me to do next. He showed me the rat traps which they placed around the perimeter of the yard. I was given a bag for any decaying bodies I might find. I was given a box of poison in case the little buggers just grabbed the bait and split. I then made my biggest mistake of the day when I asked, smirking slightly, what I did if there were any live rats in the traps.

The boss, however, thought I was asking a serious question and, without changing expression, reached into a closet and pulled out a broom handle with a nail on the end. Apparently, my job also entailed braining wild rodents. But lest you think this was the worst part of the experience, it was not.

Naturally, I performed my task with the zeal exhibited by any temp...I wandered around outside pointlessly, smoked five cigarettes, and came back in claiming to have found no evidence of rats at all. The boss then told me I had to go in the break room, take a fifteen minute break, and then go home. When I asked if I could just go home and skip the break, the boss yelled at me.

So I went to the break room, where the true horror of the day lay in wait. I sat down next to another temp (we had mowed grass earlier), and we talked a bit. This guy was really, really excited, because they had already asked him back for the next day...which would make four days in a row...which, in his logic, meant he was very close to being offered a full-time job.

This was the worst part of the day. This guy, seemingly intelligent, was thrilled beyond measure that he might get a full-time job where one of the duties was to brain rats with a nail on the end of a broomstick.

Soon after, I said "the hell with it" and went back to work in the food service industry, where I would stay for several more years...through Master's school, in fact. I am eternally grateful for the temp work, however, especially the dairy job. As well as providing me with plenty of exciting repartee for cocktail parties, future book jackets, and such, it taught me an infinitely valuable lesson.

What was that lesson, you might ask? I truly learned exactly how bad things can get.

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